Government is pumping $200 million into transforming the now derelict Sam Lord’s Castle into a 450-room resort that should be ready for its first guests by 2018.
And with it could come almost 1,000 news jobs, Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy said today as he disclosed that three hotel brands already want the shot at running the facility when it is completed.
Sealy delivered the news in Parliament where he also said the Barbados Tourism Investment Inc. has already signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the China National Complete Plant Import and Export Corporation Limited for the construction, with the funds coming from the Export-Import Bank of China.
“The funds were previously allocated for the Almond site . . . The Government was originally taking the lead there but we were in a position, through some negotiation, to have what was allocated for Almond shifted over to Sam Lord’s because, as you know, the developer . . . basically decided to kick in and take ownership of it a little earlier,” he told his colleagues in the House of Assembly, referring to the decision by Sandals to take over the former Almond Beach Village property in Heywoods, St Peter to develop it into a Beaches Resort.
“All things being equal, we think that with the Town Planning permission in place, the geotechnical studies having been done, there is no reason why mid-2015 we should not be able to get a start on this project and it is figured it should take about 30 months to complete,” Sealy added as he moved a resolution to approve the compulsory acquisition of just over 58 acres of land at Sam Lord’s Castle.
He added that once the family-oriented resort with the state-of-the-art conference facility was completed, the Freundel Stuart administration would hand over management of the property to a professional hotel operator.
“Three brands have already shown an interest in running that Sam Lord’s site,” Sealy added.
Although not disclosing the brands, he said: “One of those three brands has been in Barbados before and that says a lot about someone leaving and wanting to come back.”
“We are using the exact model that we used with Almond. It worked with Almond. We went in with an exit strategy; we went in with a clear understanding that Government does not want to run any hotels . . . The first thing you have to have is an exit strategy. We had one with Almond and as it turned out it worked so well, it was brought forward before project even started.”
Sealy reported that some US$10.6 million from that deal, in which Sandals paid $53 million for a property Government acquired for $50 million, had already been deposited at the Central Bank as part payment.
“We are not profiteering . . . The partners agreed to intervene earlier and, in essence, this paves the way for what we’re doing here today.”
The historic Sam Lord’s Castle, which was once owned by Grant Hotels Inc., has fallen into a “seriously advanced state of disrepair”, pointed out Sealy.
He said if something was not urgently done, the property and its potential could be lost.
The minister said taking advantage of the Sam Lord’s property was critical for Barbados’ tourism product, as he admitted that successive governments had not given the issue of room stock the attention that it deserves.
Noting that there has been little growth since 1980, with the number of available rooms in the island stagnating around 7,000, Sealy said: “When we talk about tourism, the first thing we can jump up and speak about is marketing budgets and advertising and so on, but capacity is important.”
“Had we been a little more focused on increasing room stock, we would probably be better off now,” he added, noting that the Sam Lord’s Castle plan would be a lynchpin in efforts to increase the number of rooms available for visitors to the island.
At the same time, the minister chastised some hoteliers for contributing to the problem.
He said their failure to keep their properties up to scratch was contributing to a decline in the existing stock.
“If you look at what has happened, or what has exacerbated the problem . . . a number of the rooms in Barbados are not really up to the mark and in dire need of refurbishment. An initial investigation showed that we have over 1,000 rooms that are idle, that are not in circulation,” Sealy pointed out.
“You look at the hotels that are doing well. It is the ones that have invested, the ones that have built their product up, [that] are doing very, very well. If you look at the ones that are not doing well, it is the ones who have gotten a little lazy in that department.
“The private sector has to accept it needs to invest in its plant and stop the blame game, as I call it,” Sealy stressed.